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B.C. RCMP seize 60,000 poppy plants in record haul Add to ...

The ground-up poppy powder called doda was sold openly in some South Asian stores in British Columbia just two years ago, but now it's the target of a police crackdown - including what the RCMP are calling Canada's largest opium poppy bust.

On Monday, Chilliwack RCMP's drug unit discovered a 2.8-hectare field planted with 60,000 opium poppies, which the Mounties say is the largest drug seizure of its kind ever known in Canada. Two men, aged 31 and 24, who were tending the field have been arrested, and police are recommending charges of production and possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.

Police are not saying if the two are the only suspects in the multimillion-dollar drug scheme.

Corporal Lee-Ann Dunlop of the Chilliwack RCMP said the field has been growing for approximately three months. "It was clearly being produced for financial gain," Cpl. Dunlop said on Thursday. Although police are saying little about the investigation, they say a field of this size has its roots in organized crime.

Not too long ago, doda could be bought in stores across the Fraser Valley alongside South Asian goods, said Harry Bains, NDP MLA for Surrey-Newton. "You could walk into a dozen of local stores and they would sell it to you. Some even kept it right on the counter," he said.

The drug has been called poor man's opium, referring to its popular use among taxi and truck drivers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India for boosting alertness.

Although the drug is illegal here and in India, Mr. Bains said it has become a problem only recently in Canada and police didn't know about it two years ago. "We brought it to their attention, and to their credit they took it seriously. They didn't know it was commercially produced and sold here," said Mr. Bains, who was asked by community leaders to help stop the spread of doda in B.C.

"We don't want to add another drug onto the drugs that our community is facing and causing havoc on our streets. … That is a serous concern if it starts growing here," Mr. Bains said.

Doda is created by grinding poppy heads into a powder, and is often mixed with hot water or tea.

Over the past two years, doda seizures have increased across Canada. In February Calgary police seized 13 kilograms of doda, prompting them to create a doda task force. A month later, Peel Regional Police in Ontario seized 1,200 kilograms of doda, which they said had a street value of $2.5-million.

"We have been aware of doda for quite some time," said Constable Michael McLaughlin of the RCMP federal drug unit.

The grow-op is described by federal drug enforcement agents as a rare find in Canada because the climate makes it difficult to grow the plant. "It's very rare, although it can grow here very well, as we have seen," Constable McLaughlin said.

The need for intensive labour to harvest it is another reason few opium operations of this scale are found here, Constable McLaughlin said. Most doda and opium seized across Canada has been imported. In January, police discovered 56.8 kilograms of opium concealed in a tombstone that was being imported from Iran to Vancouver. The bust was hailed then as the largest opium seizure made in the province.

The two men who were arrested this week have been released pending their trial in December. A local farmer contracted by police has destroyed the crop. According to police, the owner of the field was not involved in the grow operation.

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